New Zealand's prime minister has signed a partnership agreement with the NATO military alliance, saying the move formalizes and builds upon a long-standing relationship. Kiwi troops serve in Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signed the new partnership agreement with New Zealand in Brussels on Monday, simultaneously announcing a visit to Australia next week.
"We may be far away geographically, but we are linked by common values and commitment. Together, we will discuss how we can come even closer together," Rasmussen said as he and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key signed an Individual Partnership Cooperation Program Arrangement.
The deal allows New Zealand to partner with NATO more closely on issues like terrorism, military training and intelligence.
Key said the deal would help build upon stronger NATO ties with New Zealand, saying further cooperation might involve "maintaining ongoing political dialogue on security issues of mutual interest, offering further NATO training opportunities to our defense force, and engagement with NATO as it moves to tackle emerging security challenges of interest to New Zealand."
New Zealand has deployed 189 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led ISAF mission there.
"I thank Kiwi troops for their courage, professionalism and sacrifice," Rasmussen also wrote on his Twitter account on Monday.
Prior to his meeting with Key, Rasmussen announced that he would visit Australia next week, saying "both countries are making a real difference to our mission in Afghanistan.
With over 1,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan, Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF mission.
NATO has been reaching out to friendly countries not within the alliance, signing similar partnership programs with Switzerland and Sweden, while it is expected to similarly deepen its ties with Japan.
msh/av (AFP, AP)